No Longer Exempt: Israel’s Decision Point

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As the United States faces major decisions on national healthcare and the upcoming elections, it’s easy to look beyond many more crucial decisions that are being made overseas. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently facing a crossroads with the long-standing draft exemption of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel.

Who are the ultra-Orthodox, anyway?

The ultra-Orthodox have adopted a form of Judaism that accounts for their serious division of men and women. In fear that they are losing spiritual ground, the intensity of their practices increases exponentially. 

Currently, their Jewish law prohibits any form of contact between an unmarried man and woman, leaving women to become segregated on sidewalks and buses. Just recently, men are being offered glasses to blur their vision from women as “modest-patrols."

As a majority of men and women civilians are drafted into the Israeli military, the ultra-Orthodox have requested the government to accommodate their religious beliefs, the draft exemption being one of the many accommodations.

Why would they be exempt?

Exemption from the military isn’t only in Israel, but in the U.S. as well. Currently, ministers as well as the Amish community are exempt from any military drafting.

The ultra-Orthodox, although a small 10 percent following in Israel, have been permitted an exemption for the past 60 years because of their "spiritual work" already being practiced within their country. "You need to fight physically and you need to fight spiritually, so the spiritual role is played by the yeshivas," an ultra-Orthodox student told Reuters.

The decision-point—why is it so crucial?

The expiration of the exemption has been reached, and Netanyahu is being pressured on both ends to make a decision regarding the renewal. He is seemingly losing his following, including the centrist Kadima Party because of his likelihood to curtail the exemption.

The Israeli military is determined to establish a plan to reform the draft that includes a "principle of burden equality and the duty to deal individually with each and every new recruit,” according to the Huffington Post.

The real danger of deciding against the exemption renewal lies in the hands of the ultra-Orthodox leader, as many would prefer to go to prison before being drafted into the military. Ultra-Orthodox leader Meir Porush, a former lawmaker, said drafting his people would unleash a “civil war.”

Israel's Minister of Defense Ehud Barak offered defense officials one month to resolve exactly how to put the new draft procedure into practice. 

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